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Treatment plant site may offer options to fight floods

WILLMAR -- Willmar officials will decide if the old wastewater treatment plant site will be prepared to allow for future development of a storm water detention area to alleviate some of the city's storm water flooding problems.

The old treatment plant will be decommissioned after the new wastewater treatment plant located west of the city begins operating later this year. Closing the old plant has, from the beginning, been part of the $86.2 million program to build the new plant and conveyance system, ac-cording to officials. Under plans and specifications approved Monday by the City Council, contractors will be asked to submit a base bid to demolish and remove most of the old plant's buildings and foundation walls 3 to 4 feet below grade.

The site will be covered with dirt and grass planted.

Bids will be opened in July. Wastewater project consultant Donohue and Associates estimates the decommissioning cost at $3.75 million.

But the plans and specs also call for contractors to submit an alternate bid to prepare the site for floodwater detention.

Under the alternate bid, the foundations, flooring and pipes would be removed and the hole would remain at the site.

The extra cost would be paid with money remaining in the contingency fund.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the decision to proceed will be made after bids are opened.

"Once we get the bids, we'll see how we stand financially and then move forward,'' he said.

"Our hope is the bids will be favorable, that we'll have enough money in the original loan to cover ... digging out everything.''

The hole might possibly be used in the future for development of a floodwater detention project. But the city would have to find another funding source because state regulations don't allow the use of sanitary sewer funds for storm-water projects.

The old plant site had not always been discussed as a storm-water detention area.

"We had talked about it in the past but never moved forward with it because at the time we didn't know budget-wise if we would have sufficient funds to do more than what was originally called for in the base bid,'' said Schmit.

Then the Storm Water Task Force, which the council appointed in 2008 to study flooding solutions, thought using the old plant was a good idea "and at that point the City Council decided to bid it with these alternates to see where we stand.''

Schmit said people need to understand that this project in and of itself is not going to solve flooding issues at various intersections and locations throughout the city.

"But our hope is, of course, that by doing this along with other projects that the total of all these projects will in fact assist with some of our storm water issues,'' he said.

The idea of using the old plant site for storm water detention was supported by Allan Bjornberg, who lives on Lake Wakanda south of Willmar. The lake receives storm water flowing out of Willmar through County Ditch 23A. Lake Wakanda rises dramatically whenever Willmar has heavy rain.

"The last big rain caused the lake to come up 11 inches. I'm glad to hear you're using the old sewer plant. I'd like to see better quality water and less volume coming in,'' Bjornberg said.

"Willmar keeps growing and the more it grows the more water we get. For every inch of water on one acre is 27,000 gallons. You start multiplying this out times a thousand acres or whatever, it amounts to a lot of water. Water gardens would help. Using pervious surfacing in parking lots might help.''

Bjornberg said the solution is getting the state Department of Natural Resources to lower Wakanda's level. He said there is very little "fall'' from Willmar to Lake Wakanda and that high water causes Ditch 23A to back up into Willmar.

"Ditch 23A is the lake level. If you look at 19th Avenue, that is basically lake level right there. You can dig that ditch 50 feet deep and 100 feet wide and it's not going to make a lot of difference,'' he said.

Flooding issues were also on the minds of several people who spoke to the council during the open forum portion of the meeting. They included David Becker whose home and property at 1010 Kandiyohi Ave. S.W. have been repeatedly flooded during heavy rain.

He applauded city efforts to help solve the problem and spoke in favor of lowering Lake Wakanda. But he asked council members and officials to have empathy for and show respect to citizens and address their issues.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150